Honda Africa Twin Ad­ven­ture Sports

honda’s rein­vig­o­rated ad­ven­ture tourer gets a proper rugged level-up


There’s a sense of frus­tra­tion as i reach a cross­roads where the sandy dirt track i’ve been riding meets a tar­mac road. The track con­tin­ues invit­ingly on the other side, through more spec­tac­u­lar Span­ish scenery… but if i don’t turn the africa Twin ad­ven­ture Sports round and head back right now, i’ll miss my slot at the end of the queue for launch pho­tos.

This isn’t part of the of­fi­cial route; just a few ex­tra solo kilo­me­tres grabbed amid the down­time of a mod­ern me­dia event. But al­ready the ad­ven­ture Sports has im­pressed enough to make me wish i could cross that tar­mac and keep go­ing for a few more hours of off-road ad­ven­ture, to see how well this new de­riv­a­tive of honda’s africa Twin lives up to its name.

Such a ride, or ideally an even longer one, would be just what the ad­ven­ture Sports has been cre­ated for. The new-gen­er­a­tion africa Twin has been a hit since its in­tro­duc­tion two years ago. it up­dated one of honda’s most iconic mod­els in suit­ably dis­tinc­tive fash­ion, be­lat­edly gave the firm a se­ri­ous ad­ven­ture-class con­tender, and has sold over 50,000 units world­wide, roughly half of them in eu­rope.

But while honda’s bold de­ci­sion to at­tack the dom­i­nant litre-plus beasts with a lighter and less pow­er­ful 998-cc par­al­lel twin has been vin­di­cated, the re­born africa Twin has strug­gled in a few ar­eas. in par­tic­u­lar, its wind pro­tec­tion, fuel range, sus­pen­sion travel, and ground clear­ance have lim­ited its suit­abil­ity for long-dis­tance travel, es­pe­cially when the go­ing gets tough.

That’s es­pe­cially true when the honda is com­pared with the beefed-up vari­ants such as BMW’s GS ad­ven­tures, kTM’s ad­ven­ture Rs, and Du­cati’s Mul­tistrada en­duro that broaden their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies. So honda have joined in by in­tro­duc­ing the ad­ven­ture Sports as a sim­i­lar dirt- and dis­tance-friendly de­riv­a­tive.

The new model is based on an africa Twin that is it­self up­dated for 2018. There’s no change to the eight-valve par­al­lel twin en­gine, with its uni­cam SOhC cylin­der-head and 270-de­gree crankshaft lay­out. But the bal­ancer mech­a­nism is 300 grams lighter, in­take trum­pets are longer (for im­proved mid-range out­put), and the ex­haust sys­tem is new. The mods don’t al­ter the max­i­mum out­put of 95 PS at 7,500 rpm or the peak torque fig­ure of 99 Nm that ar­rives 1,500 rpm ear­lier.

Main en­gine-re­lated change is the adop­tion of ride-by-wire throt­tle con­trol, which al­lows four riding modes: Tour, softer ur­ban, off-road Gravel and a pro­gram­mable user. Chang­ing modes, by press­ing a but­ton on the left bar, ad­justs power out­put, en­gine brak­ing (through three set­tings) and trac­tion con­trol. The lat­ter, which can also be tweaked di­rectly via a lever on the left bar, now works more sub­tly, by cut­ting fuel as well as ig­ni­tion.

Other changes to the standard Twin in­clude wider foot-rests, plus re­shaped pil­lion foot-rest hang­ers that are bet­ter tucked in when the rider is stand­ing. elec­tronic up­dates in­tro­duce self­can­celling in­di­ca­tors and a re­designed in­stru­ment panel that sits flat­ter, to en­hance vis­i­bil­ity when riding stand­ing up. a lighter battery saves 2.3 kg; stain­less steel spokes should bet­ter re­sist their pre­de­ces­sors’ ten­dency to cor­rode.

The ad­ven­ture Sports adds a slightly big­ger fair­ing and taller screen, crash-bars around the fair­ing, and a sub­stan­tial alu­minium bash-plate be­low the sump. its 5.4-litre larger fuel tank brings ca­pac­ity to 24.2 litres with­out los­ing the slim­ness that con­trib­utes to the Twin be­ing one of honda’s most at­trac­tive bikes, es­pe­cially in the tra­di­tional, 1980s africa Twin blue-white-red that is the ad­ven­ture Sports’ only colour, of the four base-model op­tions.

Main chas­sis change is longer Showa sus­pen­sion, which gives an ex­tra 20 mil­lime­tres of travel at each end (at 224 mm front and 240 mm rear) and, like the standard model’s, is mul­ti­ad­justable but with no semi-ac­tive op­tion. For eas­ier riding when stand­ing up, the han­dle­bar is moved up by 32.5 mm and rear­wards by five mm.

The ad­justable seat is flat­ter and taller by 50 mm, at 900 or 920 mm.

That in­evitably makes the ad­ven­ture sports more dif­fi­cult to climb aboard (two lower ac­ces­sory seats are avail­able), even if you’re tall. But its ba­sic slim­ness and the rel­a­tively light kerb weight of 243 kg (the op­tional Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion adds 10 kg to that) meant it felt ma­noeu­vrable and rider-friendly as we headed out from the launch base in the hills north of Malaga in south­ern spain.

Im­me­di­ately I was re­minded that the africa Twin’s flex­i­ble, char­ac­ter­ful and mod­estly pow­er­ful par­al­lel-twin en­gine is cen­tral to its ap­peal. The adop­tion of ride-by-wire hasn’t marred the sweet throt­tle re­sponse and the new ex­haust man­ages to sound im­prob­a­bly throaty, con­tribut­ing to an en­joy­ably in­volv­ing char­ac­ter.

The honda pulled cleanly from as low as 2,000 rpm in the lower gears, picked up the pace through the mid-range and rum­bled along feel­ing ef­fort­lessly smooth at 130 km/h, head­ing on to­wards a top speed of about 200 km/h. It’s brisk rather than truly quick and won’t ab­sorb the ex­tra weight of a pil­lion and lug­gage like more pow­er­ful bikes, but it’s fast enough to be fun and pro­vides an ideal ex­cuse to keep the throt­tle wound open.

such is the en­gine’s gen­tle na­ture that you’d rarely re­quire any­thing other than the full-fat Tour mode on the road, though Ur­ban’s Level 2 throt­tle re­sponse is only slightly less ur­gent. There’s a big­ger dif­fer­ence to Gravel, whose softer Level 3 re­sponse is for loose sur­faces only. The lev­els of en­gine brak­ing and trac­tion con­trol are also fixed for the three riding modes.

I found this slightly ir­ri­tat­ing, be­cause en­gine brak­ing is cu­ri­ously light in the Tour and Ur­ban modes’ Level 2 set­ting, so I had to se­lect the cus­tomis­able User, which al­lowed me to choose Level 1 for what felt like a nor­mal amount of as­sis­tance when clos­ing the throt­tle. sim­i­larly, nanny honda has de­creed that trac­tion con­trol for all three fixed modes is the highly in­tru­sive

On tar­mac the Honda’s high-speed sta­bil­ity was ex­cel­lent and the nar­row front wheel al­lowed rea­son­ably light steer­ing de­spite its 21-inch width

Level 6. This can then be re­duced by flick­ing your left in­dex fin­ger a few times, but why not let the rider fine-tune all the modes, as, for ex­am­ple, Du­cati do?

on a blus­tery day I was dis­ap­pointed that the ad­ven­ture sports doesn’t an­swer one com­mon africa Twin crit­i­cism by pro­vid­ing ad­just­ment for its screen, which is 80 mm higher than the standard screen but shorter than the Tour­ing ac­ces­sory. Be­ing very tall, I like the Tour­ing screen but find the standard one far too short. I didn’t mind the sport’s half-way house too much but it gen­er­ated tur­bu­lence that would have been an­noy­ing on a longer trip.

Project leader Kenji Morita said they’d con­sid­ered an ad­justable screen be­fore stick­ing with sim­plic­ity and light weight (and pre­sum­ably lower cost). But when ri­val ad­ven­ture bikes of­fer ef­fec­tive, one-handed ad­justa­bil­ity, honda’s in­flex­i­bil­ity is surely a draw­back. same for the con­tin­ued lack of cruise con­trol, which can only be due to cost. on the other hand, I was very glad of the standard-fit­ment heated grips, al­though even the high­est set­ting didn’t seem par­tic­u­larly hot.

other fea­tures fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern of use­ful but not quite sorted. There’s a power socket on the dash, but no UsB socket or com­part­ment for phone or coins. and there’s a stor­age com­part­ment on the right of the seat, ap­par­ently in­spired bya sim­i­lar one on the orig­i­nal africa Twin, but in­stead of be­ing lock­able it is se­cured by two allen bolts, so is nei­ther con­ve­nient nor se­cure. for me the repo­si­tioned in­stru­ment con­sole was clear, if slightly clut­tered, but some shorter riders found its shal­low an­gle re­flect­ing the sky.

at least the new fuel tank is ca­pa­cious, its 24.2 litre ca­pac­ity be­ing good for over 500 km at 4.6 l/100 km, if you be­lieve honda, or a still very re­spectable 400 km at my launch av­er­age of 5.7 l/100 km. an­other use­ful ad­di­tion is the rear car­rier, which ex­tends ei­ther side of and at the same height as the pil­lion seat, form­ing a broad base on which to strap even a large bag.

Main en­gine-re­lated change is the adop­tion of ride-by-wire throt­tle con­trol, which al­lows four riding modes

If even this bet­ter-equipped africa Twin still has a few rough edges, they’re eas­ier to ac­cept when the ba­sic en­gine and chas­sis pack­age works so well — both on- and off-road. on tar­mac the honda’s high-speed sta­bil­ity was ex­cel­lent and the nar­row front wheel al­lowed rea­son­ably light steer­ing de­spite its 21-inch width.

The long-travel sus­pen­sion didn’t have a par­tic­u­larly ad­verse ef­fect on road-go­ing han­dling ei­ther. sure, there was a bit more div­ing when I braked hard with the un­changed blend of 310mm wavy discs and four-pot nissin ra­dial calipers, es­pe­cially if I squeezed hard enough to ac­ti­vate the new haz­ard sys­tem that flashes both rear in­di­ca­tors un­der heavy de­cel­er­a­tion. But the new, multi-ad­justable forks’ ex­tra damp­ing, es­pe­cially on com­pres­sion, helped keep the bike re­spectably sta­ble even when the road got twisty and the standard-fit­ment Bridge­stone ad­ven­ture a41s were work­ing hard.

Those nar­row wheels helped the ad­ven­ture sports steer very con­trol­lably off-road, too, es­pe­cially the next day when we swapped to knob­blier Conti TKC80 rub­ber. These gave

re­as­sur­ing grip even on the damp and sandy dirt track, where the Gravel mode’s re­duced power would have been fine but I pre­ferred it in com­bi­na­tion with the User mode’s op­tion of ad­di­tional en­gine brak­ing.

here the africa Twin’s low-rev grunt, sweet fu­elling and rea­son­ably light weight were wel­come, along with its well-bal­anced feel and the qual­ity of its sus­pen­sion, which soaked up bumps with no­tably more com­po­sure than the standard Twin’s springs. I didn’t to­tally trust the trac­tion con­trol, a sim­ple wheel-speed sys­tem, but it of­fered some as­sis­tance in its less in­tru­sive set­tings. The aBs, which as be­fore can be dis­abled for the rear wheel but not the front, was im­pres­sive even on gravel.

The Twin’s er­gonomic changes were wel­come. The taller bars meant that I didn’t have to reach down too far when stand­ing on the pegs, whose ex­tra width gave bet­ter lever­age and a more nat­u­ral stance. I was also glad of the crash-bars and bash-plate, given that last time I rode an africa Twin off road, I tipped off in a rut, then holed an en­gine cover on a sharp rock.

honda’s lat­est Dual Clutch Trans­mis­sion sys­tem im­pressed, too. The con­ven­tional model’s six-speed box worked fine and can be fit­ted with an op­tional quick-shifter. on dirt roads I ap­pre­ci­ated the way the DCT sys­tem let me ig­nore my big, in­flex­i­ble left mo­tocross boot and ride the bike like an au­to­matic, oc­ca­sion­ally brush­ing a but­ton with my left thumb, on ap­proach­ing a bend, to change down.

Press­ing the G but­ton on the dash gives more di­rect drive, but I didn’t find DCT de­lay a prob­lem even with­out it. The sys­tem oc­ca­sion­ally shifted up slightly early, even when in the most ag­gres­sive sport mode. (as be­fore, DCT can also be used in Man­ual, chang­ing up and down with in­dex fin­ger and thumb re­spec­tively.) The as­sis­tance of a con­ven­tional clutch with slow-speed con­trol is some­times use­ful, es­pe­cially in more tech­ni­cal or slip­pery ground. But un­less I was plan­ning to ride in such con­di­tions fre­quently, I’d be very tempted to pay the ex­tra for a sys­tem that can make off-road riding re­mark­ably ef­fort­less.

It was dif­fi­cult to think of an ad­ven­ture bike that would have been more en­joy­able or no­tably quicker on that oc­ca­sion­ally bumpy dirt-track. or, when I reached the cross­roads, one that would have made me so tempted to keep go­ing, ideally un­til the big tank ran al­most dry. The ad­ven­ture sports doesn’t elim­i­nate all the africa Twin’s lim­i­ta­tions, but it does add range, rugged­ness, and use­ful fea­tures to what was al­ready a very classy and ca­pa­ble all-rounder.

Left-side switchgear in­cludes rider mode tog­gle and fin­ger pad­dles for the DTC, while you can switch be­tween auto and man­ual modes via the right-side switchgear

In­for­ma­tion­packed dis­play takes some get­ting used to

Up­swept ex­haust keeps out of harm’s way

Beefy crash bars mean busi­ness

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